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Lewiston FD: Vale St. fire started in marijuana grow operation


A Lewiston fire investigator confirmed Wednesday morning that the fire that ripped through a Vale St. apartment building Tuesday started in a marijuana growing operation.

Investigator Paul Ouellette said that an occupant saw the fire which started in a grow tent in the second-floor front bedroom. Ouelette said the fire was accidental, and could not give the specific cause of the fire as electrical or otherwise.

He said the fire breached the third floor and started a secondary fire.

Ouellette said the grower had a legal amount of plants and was not violating a city ordinance. He said this is the first fire from a grow operation since recreational marijuana became legal in November, but it is the third fire of its kind in about three or four years.

"The main concern is how people set it up," said Ouellette. "Some setups are not the best quality. People need to use common sense. Don't put something that can burn near something hot, and don't overload electrical circuits."

Ouellette said it can be hard to regulate grow operations since the National Fire Protection Association does not have codes or guidelines for safe growing operations.

Landlords and firefighters worry about people growing marijuana in their apartment buildings due to the electricity required to operate the growing equipment.

Fire investigator Paul Ouellete of the Lewiston Fire Department said Wednesday that a fire at a Vale St. apartment on Tuesday started in an occupant's marijuana growing operation. He said the amount of electricity to operate a grow station can overload circuits.

According to Brit Vitalius, president of the Southern Maine Landlord Association, tenants cannot take any legal action against a fellow tenant who is growing marijuana, as long as the grower has the legal amount of plants.

Vitalius said there is also no case law regarding marijuana growing in apartments right now. Landlords cannot evict someone solely on the basis of growing marijuana unless it is specifically written into the lease because recreational marijuana is legal in Maine.

"It's scary is what it is because I think we feel the liability -- concern for our other tenants, concern for fires -- are we still following federal laws? Are the feds going to come in? We just don't know and we're in the middle of it and do our best, but it's a little disorienting and we're just trying to make the best decisions we can," said Vitalius.

Vitalius said the association is encouraging landlords to list in leases upfront if they will allow marijuana growing in the building. He said a landlord could evict a tenant if they break the terms of a lease that includes that provision.

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